In the darkness, they waited.
There were six of them. Each and every one a scarred and vicious veteran of the Heresy’s most savage battles. Life-weary warriors with cold eyes and tragedy beaten into their bones. Each a hero who by rights out to have been out in the void, ripping the hearts from aliens and traitors.
Zhaven, the furious captain of the Twenty Fourth Assault Company. While fighting the Emperor’s Children in the Shield Worlds he had taken to staining his gauntlets white to the elbow; punishing himself if at the end of the day the polished enamel had not been fully stained arterial red.
Artos the Unseen, who counted four hundred and thirty six confirmed kills of Sergeants or higher, (he himself had lost count of common soldiers) and of whom it was said once bested an assassin of the clade Vindicare in a contest of sniper-craft.
In the darkness, they watched.
“Only in death does duty end.” So the saying went, and so said the creed of their brotherhood. And though many others disputed it -- demanding their presence elsewhere in the Imperium’s neverending wars, calling them selfish or fearful or even cowardly -- each of them knew that his highest duty was here, to his lord. None spoke of the particular reasons that held them; their presence and devotion was enough. Besides, they had never been given over to garrulousness like some of their more outlandish cousins. But some had more obvious reasons than others.
The flesh-spare apothecary Orvix, who lost three limbs in the course of one battle and yet still dragged himself from corpse to corpse, operating his reductor with his one good arm and his teeth. He stood clad in silver and crimson-trimmed armour, a tribute to the Mechanicus adepts who had fashioned his prosthetics at the Primarch’s special request.
Old Ivril, one of four brothers who had been with the Primarch even before the coming of the Legion and the Emperor’s Light. When the Heresy had broken out he and his brothers had each commanded a squad in the Twenty Ninth Company. Ivril was the only member of that lamented unit still breathing.
In the darkness, they listened.
They stood to their posts by the Primarch's door, relieving each other every seventeen hours for a brief respite for contemplation, study, and rest. Only then did they break their silence. Only then did they speak. Only then did they dare to give voice to the desperation that lurked within their hearts:
“He will come back to us.” A whisper. An affirmation. A hope. A pleading prayer.
Sergeant Grisot was the least sanguine of them. He was Terran-born, of the Old Guard. A living relic. Even though he could have worn one of the new suits of Tactical Dreadnaught Armor as a member of the elite echelons of the First Company, he shunned the honor. Instead he still wore his ancient suit of Crusader-pattern plate. He kept the left shoulder painted the old colors; navy-blue with bone trim. A memorial to half-forgotten years long past. The news of the Emperor’s fall at Terra had broken something inside him, and ever after he was imbued with a cold and mechanistic precision that barely seemed sentient. Whenever any in their impromptu little band spoke to him, he shrugged them off with a bitter grunt:
“I’ve only sworn two oaths in my life; my life for the Emperor, and my life for the Primarch. The Emperor’s dead, or as close to as makes no difference. The Primarch isn’t. I honor my word.”
But there was a hollowness in the voice; a shadow around the eyes that said far more.
Then there was Jax of the Sixth, called “Eyeas” after the young raptors of legend because he had risen to command of a full battle company after a paltry twenty years as a full-blooded Astartes. The previous Captain and most of his staff had been killed in a xenosbreed ambush. In the following days, Jax rallied his brothers and over the next three months eradicated every last one of the vile creatures. Later, amidst their stinking and burning corpses, the Primarch had patted him on the paudron with a wry grin, saying “So hatchlings are flying these days, eh? Alright, little eyeas. Let us see how far your wings can carry you.”
Of all the Legion, Jax had been the most deeply shaken at the Primarch’s retreat into seclusion; his humours thrown out of balance and he himself left a shuddering grey wreck. But he had quickly rallied and now stood sentinel over his lord’s retreat with a steadfast assurance that bordered on fanaticism. He alone smiled behind the black ceramite of his helm, invincible in his faith in his master and liege. He alone spoke of the Primarch in the future tense, and he alone could smile when uttering his name. Though as the months passed unbeknownst to all the others his smile had begun to come a little unhinged...
In the darkness, they waited.
Out in the void the Imperium set about cleansing itself of its shattered dreams. Out in the void the Astartes set about rebuilding their shattered ranks with thin-blooded recruits. Out in the void small men and petty tyrants knocked down the last shattered remnants of greater predecessors. Out in the void the galaxy passed them by, laughing at the notion that supermen could do aught but betray and destroy; that grand ideals could do aught but fail and disappoint.
The thinblood First Captain -- no, Chapter Master
, the strange words burned in the throat like acid -- had reproached them all, pleading the Legion’s -- no, Chapter’s
-- desperate need for leadership. A visiting delegation from Terra had scoffed at them as hidebound fools, wasting away in self-indulgent exile when the new Imperium of Man needed building. And after all, wasn’t it the Primarchs and their superhuman follies which had brought about the death of the Emperor’s dream in the first place? The serfs even whispered of rumors that Roboute Gulliman himself was going to come coax them into the fold.
But none of that mattered. Through it all, stonefaced, they listened, shook their heads, and waited. Deep in the Ravenspire - deep in the darkness - the shattered husks of heroes remembered the cousins they had killed, the brothers they had lost, and the sins that stained their immortal souls.
Deep in the darkness, they waited for their lord.
It was all they had left.
It was all they knew how to do.